FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

An estimated 5,000 fans lined the streets of Binghamton, N.Y., on Wednesday to celebrate the city’s first pro hockey title.

Few enjoyed it more than two men with Connecticut ties, one of whom had to get reports in his hospital bed.

The first thing the victorious Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators did after arriving home after a clinching 3-2 victory over the host Houston Aeros on Tuesday night was to bus to UHS Wilson Medical Center in nearby Johnson City where assistant coach Steve Stirling is recovering from an emergency quadruple bypass surgery on Sunday that prevented him from being behind the bench for Game 6.

Then executive vice president of operations Tom Mitchell, a Hartford Wolf Pack official for three years after the franchise moved from Binghamton, was one of the thousands who were all smiles throughout the downtown parade.

The medical center’s third floor was unusually crowded after a police escort helped the Senators arrive ASAP to visit the 62-year-old Stirling, the former head coach of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers and NHL’s New York Islanders.

“It was pretty neat,” first-year Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. “We knew from the moment this all took place that we were going to win that trophy, and we were going to head right to the hospital. It was pretty special.”

Captain Ryan Keller and alternates captains Cody Bass, Andre Benoit, Derek Smith and former Wolf Pack and New York Rangers center Corey Locke were the first to see Stirling with Kleinendorst. Stirling got his moment with the Calder Cup and had the privilege of placing the 16th and final puck on the Senators’ commemorative playoff plaque.

“It was a little bit (emotional),” Keller said. “It’s good to see that he’s doing well and he’s recovering. I’m sure (Tuesday) night’s game didn’t help at all. He said he fell asleep in the second period, and we said, ‘So did we,’ so it wasn’t a bad thing. It was nice to be able to see him doing well to experience this with us.”

After a poor second period, the Senators trailed 2-1 entering the final 20 minutes of regulation Tuesday night, but power-play goals by Bobby Butler and Keller proved the difference in a third consecutive victory and fourth in five games.

Not being able to experience the victory first-hand was still hard on the players whom Stirling worked with for nine months.

“He wanted to cry when he saw the Cup,” forward Kaspars Daugavins siad. “He couldn’t be a part of the celebration, which was hard for us to watch.”

But Daugavins inserted some levity when he brought Stirling’s “silver fox” cane, a walking stick the players purchased on one of their early playoff road trips, coloring the fox silver on top to pay tribute to their assistant coach’s nickname.

Players who did not make the trip to Houston brought the cane to the airport, where they met their teammates with family members and fans for the trip to the hospital. Doctors, nurses and patients took note when they arrived, and the halls were flooded with requests for autographs and pictures with the Cup until the team departed for the parade.

The parade proved an antithesis for Mitchell from 1997, when the Binghamton Rangers executive vice president of operations was part of the ownership group that sold the team to the New York Rangers, enabling the NHL team to move the franchise to Hartford. That left the Binghamton area without an AHL team for the first time since 1976, arguably the darkest moment in the city’s professional hockey history.

For the next three years, Mitchell was the executive vice president of the Wolf Pack and was in Rochester, N.Y., to help the team celebrate a 4-1 victory over the Americans that gave them their only Calder Cup title and the only pro title in Hartford hockey history. But now the 63-year-old Mitchell could cherish his greatest moment.

“There’s a lot of personal satisfaction,” Mitchell said. “Way back in 1997, when the Rangers decided to leave, that’s not what I wanted. I was hoping it wouldn’t work that way, and right to the end they were going to stay and something happened in the deal and they go.”

Mitchell oversaw business operations as the general managing partner for three AHL franchises in Binghamton – the Whalers (1985-90), Rangers (1990-97) and Senators (2002-present). Though Mitchell enjoyed his first championship in Hartford, this one was more meaningful for the man who lives in nearby Endicott, N.Y.

“A lot of these fans I’ve known for years and years; they yearned to just get in the playoffs,” Mitchell said, alluding to the Senators winning the title after missing the postseason the last five years. “Finally, we were able to go all the way to the end here.

“I’m happy for them. I’m happy for the players and coaches, and as I said to the players earlier this season, there are people in the community that live and die with this hockey club. They showed it in the playoffs, and the players finally figured out what I meant. I’m happy to be a part of this.”

And while several AHL teams could relocate, starting with the Manitoba Moose, Mitchell is certain that AHL hockey will stay in Binghamton.

“The reception these players got (Wednesday), you’d be hard-pressed to find that anywhere,” Mitchell said. “The fans here are passionate fans … this gathering here showed that. I’m confident the AHL will be around Binghamton for a long time, and I’m confident we’ll be with the Senators.”

And I’m happy for Tom, one of the real good guys in all of sports. I can still picture him on the ice and in the locker room after the Wolf Pack won their Calder Cup. I can only imagine what No. 2 meant to a man connected so closely to Binghamton for so many years.

KLEINDORST FINALIST FOR OTTAWA JOB

While Mitchell will be working to have a repeat winner in Binghamton, he might have to do it without Kleinendorst, one of the finalists for the head job with the parent Ottawa Senators. Kleinendorst, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 1980, could succeed Cory Clouston, fired a day after the NHL season ended and Ottawa not in the playoffs.

Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray said he’s close to making a decision but has to conduct a few follow-up interviews.

“What I’m finding out is there’s a number of very qualified people out there that are interesting to talk to,” Murray said Wednesday after the NHL’s GMs meeting in Boston. “Even as long as I’ve been in the game you learn from each and every one of them. I just have to have a second interview with two or three of them and then make a decision.”

Kleinendorst’s familiarity with the organization’s prospects is a major asset.

“Kurt’s performance has always helped his case,” Murray said. “He’s a good man, he’s real fair and honest. The players have enjoyed playing for him and played hard. I think we had 12 or 13 young players playing for him and he’s done a real fine job.”

Other coaching vacancies expected to be filled soon are with the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild. Former Whalers captain Kevin Dineen was named coach of the Florida Panthers on May 31.

Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk hopes to make a decision before the NHL draft June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn.

“It’s going well, we’ve met some impressive candidates,” Nieuwendyk said. “Ideally, I’d like to have it done before the draft, but certainly before free agency (opens July 1).”

The Wild also would like to have a coach at their draft table while hosting the event at the Xcel Energy Center. For GM Chuck Fletcher, it’s important for him to bounce ideas off his coach.

“In a perfect world, you have guy in case you make a trade at the draft or for free agency he may have insight into a player,” Fletcher said. “He might have a player he absolutely doesn’t like or a style of player that he prefers. So if you’re filling out a certain role on your third or fourth line – let’s be honest, if the coach has a strong opinion on something I’d rather go with that player

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Admirals coach Lane Lambert was named an assistant with the Nashville Predators. In five seasons with the Admirals, Lambert had a 239-108-17-36 record, including 44-22-6-8 last season when Milwaukee won the West Division and Western Conference regular-season titles. The Ads also became the first franchise in the AHL’s 75-year history to post eight consecutive seasons of 90 or more points and 40 or more wins.

“This is certainly a well deserved promotion for Lane and I have no doubt that he will find continued success with the Predators,” Admirals governor/CEO Harris Turer said. “Not only has he been responsible for getting the most out of our players on the ice, he has also helped to mold high-character people off of it and we are truly grateful for both.”

Milwaukee qualified for the playoffs in each of Lambert’s seasons as coach and collected the second-most points in the Western Conference during his tenure. In 2008-09, the Admirals tied for the most points in the league with 107 and claimed the West Division regular season title.

Prior to joining the Admirals, Lambert was a Sound Tigers assistant for one season.

Also, former Springfield Pics and Boston College standout Bill Guerin, who ended an 18-year NHL career in December, has remained with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player development coach. The 40-year-old Guerin, who won a silver medal with Team USA in the 2002 Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Devils (2005) and Penguins (2009), will work with prospects throughout the organization, assisting in the development of players in the minor leagues along with junior and college hockey. Guerin had 429 goals and 427 assists in 1,263 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Stars, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks.

While Guerin joined the Penguins coaching staff, forward Craig Adams signed a two-year, $1.35 million contract extension. Adams, 34, would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1 after getting four goals and 22 assists in 171 games and being a key penalty killer with the Penguins since being claimed on waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks on March 4, 2009. He was a key contributor in the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup that year after helping the Carolina Hurricanes win it in 2006. … As expected, True North and Sports and Entertainment, the group purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers and relocating the team to Winnipeg, named Kevin Cheveldayoff its executive vice president and general manager. The 40-year-old Saskatchewan native had served as an assistant GM and senior director of hockey operations with the Blackhawks and will replace Thrashers GM Rick Dudley, who was not retained by Winnipeg management. Craig Heisinger will be the Winnipeg team’s senior vice president and director of hockey operations and assistant GM. The move will keep Heisinger entrenched in familiar territory as he was GM of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and a former equipment manager with the Moose and the Winnipeg Jets, who moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996.

YALE’S AGOSTINO AMONG TEAM USA POSSIBILITIES

Yale forward Kenny Agostino was among 40 players invited to the United States national junior evaluation camp on Thursday for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Agostino, the Penguins’ fifth-round pick in 2010, had 11 goals and 14 assists in 31 games this season for the Elis, ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the season before losing to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth 5-3 in the East Regional final at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

Agostino had eight goals and four assists in nine games in January, when he was named Hockey Commissioner’s Association Rookie of the Month. His five points, including three goals, against Holy Cross were the most by a Yale rookie since 1980.

USA Hockey will host the camp Aug. 6-13 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., and there are seven returnees from last year’s team that won a bronze medal in Buffalo: defensemen Justin Faulk, Derek Forbort and Jonathan Merrill and forwards Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle, Emerson Etem and Jason Zucker, who also was a member of the 2010 team that won gold in Saskatoon. A separate announcement of the goaltenders invited to the camp will be announced later this month.

This year’s camp will feature intra-squad scrimmages, and after the roster is reduced, there will be exhibition games against Finland and Sweden.

Dean Blais, who guided the 2010 team WJC gold, will coach the 2012 team with Scott Sandelin, Tom Ward and Joe Exter serving as assistants. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan also will be part of the coaching staff.

A GRETZKY CHOOSES BASEBALL

A baseball career is on the horizon for the son of the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.

Wayne Gretzky’s son, Trevor, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs was the 219th pick in the amateur baseball draft on Tuesday.

Trevor, a senior at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif., announced his intentions to play college baseball at San Diego State, where he will be coached by Hall of Famer and former San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn.

As a junior, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound first baseman batted .341 with two home runs and 33 RBI. In February, he told www.mlb.com that he fell in love with baseball while his father was playing with the Rangers.

“I was introduced to it, probably, in New York,” he said. “Growing up, my dad was with the Rangers, and I remember him taking me to a Yankees game and ever since then I’ve wanted to play. It’s been my dream to play in the major leagues ever since then.”

In February, Wayne discussed the prospect of Trevor being drafted with www.nhl.com.

“When you’re going to be my son or the son of a professional athlete, the pressure is a little bit, even greater for those kids,” Wayne said. “After the draft takes place and we find out where he’s going to go and what situation he’s in, then we’ll sit down and talk about it as a family.”

Trevor has until Aug. 15 to decide if he will sign a pro contract with the Cubs or play at San Diego State.

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